If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 6 May 2010

In Memoriam P.E.B.

Tonight, when I sit up until the small hours watching the results come in, there will be someone with me. I won't be able to see him, but he will be the reason I am not tucked up in bed dreaming of a lottery win.

Dad came from a family of Labour and Co-operative party activists. His mother was one of the founders of the Co-operative movement in Skipton, and the whole family was unswervingly, tribally, Labour to the core. This was what I grew up with. Labour are the only party that cares about people. Conservatives are all selfish. Businesses always exploit their innocent, loyal workers. Trades Unions (note the 's' - never Trade Unions) are a vital part of a fair society, and without them working people would be downtrodden. The Labour Party are the political arm of the Union movement, and it is right that Union subs go to support the only chance the workers have of decent representation in Parliament. Even if Labour are wrong, they are wrong for the right reasons. You can always trust a Labour man to have the good of the working class, and therefore the country, at heart. Politicians are noble, selfless and hardworking, except of course for the Tories and Liberals, who are in it for what they can get. The closed shop is a necessary evil, as without it workers' rights would be trampled on.

When you have this drilled into you throughout your childhood, it can be hard to escape and think for yourself. I was too young to vote in 1970, but I voted Labour in both the 1974 elections, and in all the local elections I voted for the candidate best placed to beat the Conservative (I moved around a lot, but often found myself living in safe Tory seats). It was easy to do: being a student in the early 70s meant that voting Labour was the obvious thing to do, even if Labour weren't anything like radical enough for most of us. But by the time of the 1979 election, I was 25 and starting to think for myself. The dismal record of strikes and incompetence from Callaghan's government in the late 70s made me question a lot of my beliefs and in 1979 I voted Conservative for the first time. I was conscious that this was an act of rebellion, and I told no-one. I became a bit of a floating voter after that (although constantly mindful of the views of my Dad, that floating voters were just people with no morals or principles and, worst of all, potential Tories). I did feel strongly about the sleaze issue in 1997 (hah!) and voted for Tony Blair. The promises of a new kind of clean, transparent and honest politics won me over. The lies and manipulations over Iraq made me realise how wrong I had been, and it's been downhill ever since - no need to list all the things that have gone wrong since then - to the point where I despise Labour and view them with hatred and contempt.

I'm making my Dad sound like some rabid Trot, and of course he wasn't. He had a very different life from mine. Born in 1913, he lived through some hard times, including the Depression. He was 23 when the Jarrow March took place, and it passed within a few miles of where he lived. It made a big impression. He fought in the Second War, in the Royal Tank Regiment in the desert. I think he fought at El Alamein, but he was too modest to talk about it. He was fundamentally a good man, with very high moral principles, and I am glad that a lot of those principles have rubbed off on me, even if they sometimes make life a bit difficult. He believed, above all, in fairness. It is wrong to lie to people, to exploit people, to seek personal gain over the good of society. You do your best, you pay into the kitty willingly, and you know that people less fortunate than yourself are being looked after. It wasn't self-interest, either: he had a good job and was well-paid, and he never begrudged paying his rightful share. In other words, he stood by his principles, even when they cost him. He regarded it as shameful that people could be starving while their countrymen lived a life of plenty, and I can't say I disagree.

Of course, today is a different world. I'm not sure he would be too keen on people living their lives on benefits with no intention to work. To him, the Welfare State was a safety net, not a hammock. He abhorred drugs, drunkenness and gambling, so Labour's 24-hour licensing and their relaxation of the casino rules would have mystified him. I imagine the expenses scandal would have rocked him back on his feet - not the Tory excesses, he'd expect that, but Labour people flipping homes and getting the working classes to pay for non-existent mortgages? In his world, that would have been unthinkable.

He died in 1988, just at the end of the Thatcher period. God only knows what he would make of Labour today. He would regard the bullying of McBride and Balls as utterly unacceptable, Peter Mandelson would have irritated him intensely, and he would have been deeply unhappy about going to war on a lie. And yet, I'm pretty sure his tribal loyalty to Labour would have pulled him through. He would have said "yes, these are bad things, but the people who did them are good people underneath, and that counts for a lot."

I can see him now, on Election Night, with his favourite chair pulled up in front of the TV, waiting for Mum and me to go to bed. He would have the Manchester Guardian pulled apart on the floor in front of him, and sheets of paper with lines and charts and coloured pencils ready to record the results as they came in. (This was before the days of coloured graphs in the papers and swingometers on the TV - you had to make your own entertainment in those days.) He would stay up all night, and then grab some breakfast and go off to work. To him, politics mattered, and he had no patience at all with people who couldn't be bothered to vote.

He'll be here with me tonight. He'll have to make do with The Times, I'm afraid ("bloody Tory paper"), and there won't be any slide rules or lists of numbers on a scratch-pad. But I will have a number of channels to watch, all the calculator things on the web and, if I get bored, any number of blogs to read and respond to on my laptop. He would have loved that.

I shall miss him tonight.

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